Court Interpreters

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The U.S. Census for the year 2000 counted more than 200 languages and many dialects in California, making it the most linguistically diverse state in the nation. However, by law, all official court business must be conducted in English.

To provide meaningful access to justice, the California Constitution says that “[a] person unable to understand English who is charged with a crime has a right to an interpreter throughout the proceedings.”

  • This means that in criminal cases (including delinquency matters), courts must provide specially trained language interpreters for victims, defendants, and witnesses who understand little or no English.

Under this mandate, the courts must also provide interpreters for:

  • Certain civil matters such as divorce or separation involving a protective order, and child custody and visitation proceedings.

People who are deaf or hard of hearing are also entitled to an interpreter for all court proceedings, whether criminal or civil.

In almost all other civil cases (an individual or organization suing another individual or organization), the people involved are responsible for getting their own interpreters if they have limited ability to read, write, or speak English.

Certified Court Interpreters

Only interpreters who pass the Court Interpreter Certification Examination and register with the Judicial Council are referred to as “certified" in these 13 languages:

      American Sign Language and

ArabicMandarin
Eastern ArmenianPortuguese
Western ArmenianRussian
CantoneseSpanish
JapaneseTagalog
KoreanVietnamese


Registered Court Interpreters

Interpreters of spoken languages for which there is no state certifying examination are called “registered interpreters of non-designated languages.” They must pass an English proficiency examination, and register with the state’s Judicial Council.

Informal Interpreters

People involved in a civil lawsuit may ask friends, family members or others to go to court with them to interpret the court’s proceedings for them informally. 

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